Friday, May 3, 2013

Day 1: Stage 2 - Big Win. Because life is a work in progress

Starting again.  Every day we wake up and start again.  Today I decided to start my disciplined Ashtanga practice again.

It has been almost a month since I last wrote in this blog.  Thank the yoga-gods that isn't the last time I actually practiced.  In fact I have been practicing as much as I ever have. But sadly, my Ashtanga asana practice has been losing steam over the past month.  The focus required for a disciplined practice has been washed away and overrun by the basics of keeping a full life moving forward while living in Haiti.

It isn't that I don't have time.  It isn't that I don't have the energy.  It isn't even that I am not practicing and doing asana every day.  What is missing is focus and discipline.  Exactly what I need in my life overall and exactly what the Ashtanga practice has to offer. 

So here I am on Friday May 3rd, ready to re-engage and re-immerse myself into the will of my focused and disciplined practice.  I practiced this morning a full focused two hours and it was awesome.  Doing the sequence in order and on point created a powerful coming home feeling that is still sitting with me.

There were three 'wins' in the practice.  The coming home feeling has to be called a win, as it reminded me that this isn't something I 'should do' this is something I 'want' to do.

The second win was still being able to bind Marichyasana C, super glad that my haphazard practice over the month kept my hips and shoulders open enough to maintain where I left off.

The third big win was that I actually lifted both legs of the floor in dandasana. Something I have been trying numerous times in almost every practice as I work toward the strength I need for jump-throughs.  It was only a half a second, but I did it more than once.  That feeling of doing something that I have been trying to do day after day for weeks on end goes into the win column of life.

I know life isn't all about the wins - but damn I love to feel good about work I am doing on my yoga mat and in my life.  Day 1, Stage 2: Big Win. Because life is a work in progress...the tagline for Project Zen where I currently teach in Haiti.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Days 18-23: Finding Rhythms and making time to do the practice.

Back in Haiti. 100% here. Not so 100% with the practice.

It turns out it's just a little bit harder to commit to a daily practice when I am teaching a couple of classes a day and have other demands on my time. My grand plan had been to practice everyday after I teach a 6:30am-7:30am class.  Well that grand plan has been messed up by one thing or another almost every day.

Flexibility comes in handy. I am proud that I have practiced 4 out of the past 6 days, even if not at the planned time.  It's not too shabby for someone finding my rhythm living in a developing country.  I would really like to make that morning time work, and will keep trying.  And of course will keep finding my mat at other times if the mornings won't work.

All last week I continued my love affair with the Janu Sirsasana poses. I am getting so close to comfortable in all three versions.  It's cool to see how an (almost) daily practice can impact the pose experience so quickly.

When I was dabbling in Ashtanga over the past year, I couldn't imagine how anyone could ever sit on their heel or turn their foot at that angle and be OK.  But now just over 3 weeks of regular practice of the Primary Series postures and I am already seeing great improvements in how many of the poses feel.

This is not to say I have mastered the basic Primary Series postures.  Not at all. There are still a few postures that are fully beyond me: Bhujapidasana, Supta Kurmasana, Kukkutasana, Setu Bandhasana. Now that I wrote them down, I'm somewhat surprised that there are only 4 in the category of 'not doing that one right now'.

I love the practice and I love writing about it.  So tickled about the experience and watching it unfold.  Thanks for letting me share!


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Days 15,16 & 17: In Transition, Costa Rica to Haiti

Day 15 was my last day in Costa Rica. I almost didn't practice. In the morning I took it easy, and had a big breakfast and was ready for a rest day.

Then I realized that I'd be traveling all the next day and so that would be my rest day.  And Flor, my new Costa Rican friend, also wanted to practice.  So we got on our mats together in the late morning and had a lovely practice.

We had practiced together on the first few days, but then our schedules weren't matching up. It was very sweet to have her by my side for my last practice in Costa Rica.

Day 16 was a rest day and the day I left Costa Rica.  The departure wasn't quite as sad as the days leading up to it.  The travel all went smooth and I felt happy to be returning to Haiti to teach more yoga and to continue to deepen my own practice.

Day 17. In Haiti. Struggling. I started to practice at the studio this morning and had to stop. I just didn't have the energy. Transition. Where is my yoga deck? Where is the ocean? Why am I here and not there?

I left the yoga studio mid-afternoon. I walked into my new house and bumbled around. Is this really home?

Finally at some point I realized the best place to answer all of these questions is on my yoga mat.  There is no answer, and that is what I remember when I get on my mat.

It is all about the experience of whatever is present. It is all about letting the questions and the unknown be what they are and being present with them in a way that lets them sort themselves out in their own time.

Transition.  I was there, and now I am here. On may mat in a different place doing the same postures, counting the same breaths and finding my sense of home. In me, wherever I am, even in transition.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Day 14 - Three Janu Sirsasana poses, I get it!

When I first started dabbling in Ashtanga, I could never understand why there are three different Janu Sirsasana poses.

The A version is so sweet and comfortable, a great stretch. I didn't get why someone had to ruin it by telling me to sit on my heel and keep my toes pointing forward for B and then trying to twist my ankle and break my toes for the C version.

In this intensive time, I've been giving each version a little more attention and it is paying off. This week I finally feel the different hip stretches I get from having the bent leg in each of the positions.  I am still working on making them comfortable enough to fully get the stretch, but it is definitely better than it was. I get it, and I'm excited to keep working on it to get it even more deeply and comfortably.

The sadness of the retreat reaching it's end is gone today.  Thankfully acceptance has arrived. And just in time, because tomorrow is my last day here.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Day 12 & 13 - Tears and Rolling Toes

My practices the past two days have started in tears. I'm  sad I only have a few days left here in Costa Rica. The three weeks here have been three of the most powerful, peaceful and inspiring of my life.  A big part of me wants to stay and live in this gentle loving environment forever.

But there is another part of me, stronger right now, that calls me back to Haiti.

One of my teachers Peg Mulqueen wrote recently in a blog post titled La Petit Mort about the search to, "understand why we must face constant challenges, battle our way upstream, and continue on a path that is risky and not so much fun sometimes."

When I read her blog this morning that was when the tears started.

The tears are again simmering just below the surface as I write this.  I really do want to take an easy and comfortable path. I desperately want to settle down in a sweet place like this in Costa Rica to just surf, do yoga, get a little part-time job to make ends meet.

Reading Peg's post this morning reminded me that it's just not my path right now.  

There is still work I need to do in the world, and for now that work is in Haiti.  My work is in Haiti, and the path forward is my soul's journey home.  The saddest part is that my soul feels more at home here at Boca Sombrero on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica than it has ever felt anywhere.  But it's just not the time for me to be so 'at home' yet. I still have work to do to allow me to be fully ready for it.   And that makes me cry.

I started my sun A's in tears and they were gone by the time I got through my B's.

For the first time in a practice I finally had the courage to fully flip over my both sets of toes at the same time. I've been dabbling at it and trying here and there.  Today it finally set in, I did it in nearly every transition from Urdhva Mukha Svanasana to Adho Mukha Svanasana. I was so afraid it'd hurt my feet that I'd been making it much harder than it needs to be.  Today I just relaxed them and it happened quite easily.

I'll try to carry that lesson with me back to Haiti. If I can just relax into the work, just maybe the way will be smooth.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Days 10 & 11 - I love it, but I forgot it. Ardha Baddha Padmottansana

Here I am in Days 10 & 11 and feeling stronger than ever.  I am hitting a sad wall that my intensive retreat time is coming to and end.  I almost cried today as I walked to my mat.

The near tears were a mixture of sadness that the time is ending and immense gratitude that I have taken this time to deepen my practice.  I am excited to see what unfolds in the coming days as I wind up here.  And even more excited to see how it progresses when I return to Haiti.

Yesterday on Day 10, I was practicing intently, enjoying both the amazing space I am practicing in and the sensations arising as I moved into each posture.  I was just finishing a deep set of the Utthita Hasta Padangustasana A, B, C movements and it dawned on me that  I hadn't done Ardha Baddha Padmottonasana since about Day 3. I had completely forgotten about it.  I really love the posture, so it was a wonderful gift to have back in my practice.

I love the way my hips and thighs feel in Ardha Baddha Padmottonasana. I have open hamstrings so the forward folding is accessible.  I love the feeling of my foot hooked into my hips flexors and the grand opening that happens in the outer hips as the forward fold deepens with one of the legs tucked in.

It is one of those poses that has come easily since I first tried it.  But I can also recall not being able to bind the hand-foot until I bent over. I also recall my foot being much further down on my thigh.  So it is a posture I have always enjoyed, and am enjoying witnessing it as it deepens.  Today I briefly kissed my chin. It was a light butterfly kiss as I was just about to release the posture.  Practicing self-love for real.

Until tomorrow!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Days 8 & 9 - Keeping at it, Kurmasana

Distracted. I am so in love with doing a strong yoga practice and surfing everyday that all other aspects of my life have fallen to the side.

Day dreams. That's about all I can muster for my to-do list.  Between yoga and surfing I day dream about things I 'should' or 'could' be doing to get my life organized and prepared for returning to Haiti...and then I go sit on the beach or walk in the jungle.

It is thrilling that I'm not distracted from my new Ashtanga practice. Everyday I am on my mat for 2-3 hours and it feel luxurious and amazing.  What a privilege to have this kind of unstressed practice time for myself.

While I'm on my mat, that is one of the times that my to-do list dances around in my head. I've noticed that my mind is emptier while surfing than it is while doing yoga.  I think it is because surfing is still so new.  There is also the fact that there is water and waves that need to be navigated and assessed.

As I write that, I realize that it is my thoughts waves that are being navigated and assessed on the yoga mat. That is the practice.  To see the thoughts and to bring them back to breath and posture.  The physical postures are an extension and embodiment of that focus.

This morning while I was walking on the beach I saw an huge mama turtle.  She was majestic and ancient.   Starting my day seeing a huge turtle was a powerful totem for the work I am doing on Kurmasana or Tortoise Pose.  She was so awkward as she was working her way across the rocks to get back to the ocean, it made me feel better about my awkward attempts to get into the pose.

Kurmasana is still a total work in progress.  My hamstrings are plenty open enough for it, but there is some core tucking that needs to happen that I don't understand yet.

I got worried that I about hyper-extending my elbows by not getting my arms far enough under my legs. So now I am doing more of a prep pose that is followed by some hip and hamstring opening.  I am going to read some about that part of the series soon, and maybe even look at some youtube video tutorials to get some tips on how to move into them safely.

I did get the Marichyasana C bind today, it felt awesome to see it again.  We'll see if it is still there tomorrow and what else shows up on the mat and out on the waves.  Regular life will be waiting on the other side of this paradise.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Day 7 - Rest Day

Rest day and much needed.  I feel a lttle guilty for needing a rest day when I am on the most relaxed and cool vacation ever. But I really felt the effects of pushing my body over the past couple of weeks and so I took today off from the Ashtanga practice.

It is an interesting experience for me to 'take a day off".  I am a little scared that by not practicing a day then maybe I'll lose my momentum, maybe the discipline will be gone.  I am sure it isn't the case, but it was interesting to notice.

I took the day off from yoga but not from surfing.  It was an amazing day.  There was a swell so big that the local instructor wasn't sure I should go out.  But we talked about it and decided I would give it a try.  I am super glad I did, because the waves were awesome.  I felt strong and good and free surfing the Costa Rican waves today.

I look forward to getting back on the mat tomorrow.  I will sleep early and rise early for a deep long practice. Surfing isn't until 11am so I'll have plenty of time to give the practice my all.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Day 6 - Back when I could bind....yesterday

Today's practice started around 7:30am in a different location because the yoga deck was being used for a group class.  It took a little adjusting in the new location, but the practice went well.  There was less breeze so I sweated more, which actually felt cleansing and good.

The practice was zinging along, I was in it, I felt good and then came Marichyasana C. I bound it for the first time yesterday and was thrilled.

Today I twisted my left arm over my right knee, tucked my tummy past my thigh, pulled my knee as far into and up my arm moving toward the shoulder as much as I could, reached around and my arm just stopped.  It wouldn't wrap, then I slipped away from my leg and the twist lots it's depth. I hugged in again, twisted, reached and my arm stopped. The third time, I hugged my leg in, reached my arm down and out...nope.  Wtf?

I did it yesterday, but not today. I was pissed off for a moment, and then took a deep breath and remembered this is only Day 6, and I have a lifetime to get the bind. I felt it yesterday, and I am sure it'll be back. So I just reached for my ankle, and enjoyed a deep twist imagining the full posture.

I finished my practice with as much energy as I started, not letting the absence of a bind I found yesterday get in my way.  I am not doing this to get anywhere, I am doing this to feel what happens every day when I try the same postures again.

This Ashtanga practice is about the experience of doing it, not what I can do.  It's awesome when I feel the body do something it wasn't able to do it in the past. And it is just as awesome to notice that today it won't do something it would do yesterday.

See you tomorrow!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Day 5 - Spring Equinox, Same Postures

Today was a challenge.

I'm tired and it was hard to motivate myself to do the Ashtanga practice.

This morning I dilly-dallied in cutting and eating my fruit, and then decided I needed to bring some fruit to the neighbors. By the time I got to my mat this morning, I didn't feel I had the time to do the Ashtanga practice justice, so I did a Sivananda practice. I love my Sivananda practice and it was nice to take it a little easy this morning.

After I practiced I went out and surfed for 2 hours and had a harder time on the board than I have all week. The front of my board kept going under and catching, so got tumbled into the white water again and again. I ended up catching some good waves, but phew I was feeling a little beaten up.

I may have been feeling beaten up, but my commitment to the new Ashtanga practice was still intact.  I ate a second round of fruit after surfing and went to the yoga deck to do the Primary Series.  It was a good steady practice.  I didn't use the cheat sheet and remembered all of the postures in the right order except Baddha Konasana.

I timed myself a bit more closely today and it took me 30 minutes to get to paschimottanasana, and then another 45 to get to kurmasana and another 45 to get to the end of the closing postures.  So it is a solid 2 hours it's taking me to get through the series, and I am still skipping vinyasas.

I feel good about committing to a 2 hour daily practice for a while, and I imagine it'll get a bit faster when I don't have to think about which posture comes next. So I'll have time to add in more and more vinyasas as I feel moved to do so.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Day 4 - May I be loving, kind and generous

"May I be loving, kind and generous to myself so that I can share more love, kindness and generosity to others." 

This is what danced into my head as I moved into my "take rest" posture after doing my best at most of the Ashtanga Primary Series postures early this morning.  Today's practice started at 6am because the tide has shifted and surfing is getting later in the morning now.

Living on a schedule that follows the flow of the tides is a joyous experience that takes some getting used to.  I was so excited about waking up and surfing, but now I can't because the tide is too low.  So I am going with the flow and am swapping the order of my practices.

Living the dream: Wake up, fruit feast, yoga, protein snack, surfing, more fruit, writing, lunch, whatever comes....  Magical. 

No cheat sheet today! And I did all of the postures up through Supta Kurmasana without a hitch.  I did find my mind wandering quite a bit, but tried to go easy on myself and simply bring it back to my breath and the posture I was working.

I did the Uttitha Hasta Padagustasana and Virabhadrasana postures in the right order and remembered to do Navasana.   I was also thrilled to make the full bind in Marichyasana C and to fully feel the distinct reality that Marichyasana D is not far from my reach.  I think I'll make the bind before I leave Costa Rica- and that has me pretty stoked.

Well damn.  I totally forgot to do my backbends.  I just realized it as I am writing this.  I need to work on Backbends, it's very convenient that I 'forgot' them.  I'll do a backbend practice this afternoon and will make sure I remember them tomorrow.

Even though I forgot to do a posture that I really need and want to work on, I worked hard this morning. When I woke up and walked over to the yoga deck, I wasn't sure I really felt like working very hard and was ready to take it easy through the practice.  But as I moved my body into the postures, the energy and interest in exploring more deeply found it's own way into the practice and I worked each posture to it's deepest.  

For time and energy's sake I did skip quite a few vinyasa's during the seated series. I have mixed feelings about it.  I skipped them for the practical reason that I wanted to finish in 90 minutes so I can eat before surfing.  I also skipped them because they are hard for me, and I am not sure how I feel about that.

I want this practice to be disciplined and I want to do the things that are hard for me.  I was thinking about these mixed feelings as I ended the practice to move into rest, and that was when the voice of God reminded me that I want to " be loving, kind and generous to myself so that I can offer more love, kindness and generosity to others." 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Day 3 - "You take practice, you think God."

Same time, same place, same postures.  

Day 3 of my new and disciplined Ashtanga Hatha Yoga practice was awesome.  I brought my surfing beginner mind and less tired arms because I actually skipped surfing this morning.

I had woken up a few times in the night with strong soreness sensations in my arms and shoulders so I decided they could use a break and slept in.

I rolled out of my tent around 8am, did some housekeeping type stuff, ate a big plate of fresh fruit, and reviewed the handy-dandy primary series guide from Ashtanga Yoga Canada.

I looked at all the postures, reviewed the names, and looked more closely at the pictures of the ones that are new to me.

I've looked at that sheet about 25 times in the past 3 days but today for the first time I noticed the Sri K Pattabhi Jois quote,
"You take practice, you think God."
When I read the quote I realized that a beginner mind is perfect for thinking God. I also realized that while in my other yoga practices I often "think God" that so far in my Ashtanga dabbling I hadn't really.

For whatever reason, until today, my Ashtanga practice had me very focused on trying hard to do the postures correctly and in the right order.  In some ways that might be thinking God, but the quote helped me see that my mind could be bigger than it had been in past practices.

So I started my practice with the intention of holding an open beginner mind focused on counting breaths as I fully embodied each posture.  It was heavenly and I even though my mind definitely wandered about in many postures, I still definitely thought more God in this practice than I have been.

I ended up practicing for over 2 1/2 hours and still didn't make it quiet all the way through the series.  I made good progress on it though and spent a lot of time focused on strengthening and preparing for jump throughs. I also got further in Kurmasana than yesterday, and did some great prep stretches for the Supta version.

Today I messed up the order of the Utthita Hasta Padagustasana and the Virabhadrasana poses. I also forgot Navasana (no really I totally forgot because I was so worked up about Kurmasana) and I also messed up order of the closing series.

Thankfully I'll have another chance to get it right tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that.....

Monday, March 18, 2013

Day 2 - Beginner's Mind

Today I practiced about the same time as yesterday 10:30-1pm.

I love my daily flow so far. I wake up at 5-6am to surf for a few hours, eat a bunch of fresh fruit, check email and social media and then head over to the yoga deck for my new Ashtanga practice. Yoga is followed by lunch, some writing, some napping then back for a second round of surfing and gentler yoga and bed. It works.

Beginner's Mind. What a scary and awesome place to be.  Experiencing my beginner's mind both on the surf board and on my yoga mat is an amazing contrast.

Surfing was something I always assumed was out of my depth of practice. Something I just wouldn't be strong enough or coordinated enough to do.  It turns out I was wrong.  I am a natural surfer, pretty good at it and I am learning and getting more comfortable every day.

My path to greater skill, comfort and ease in surfing comes from each time on the water staying with my beginner mind wide open and ready to absorb the experiences.  I play with my weight on my board as I wait for the next set of waves. I watch the waves and water patterns understanding how and where the surf breaks.  And everyday I surf, I play and I practice. It comes easily and naturally. I have no expectations. It is brand new and I love every moment of it.

Beginner's Mind on my yoga mat is another story.  I've had a solid yoga practice for about 8 years. My journey into yoga began on a beach in Ghana, shifted to a year at a yoga ashram, grew into teaching and has been my path to self renewal and healing.

Yoga is what I know best in the world. But now I am starting something new - Ashtanga. And shit, it's hard....

There are about 60 poses in the Primary Series- and there is a vinyasa between most of them.  Today I used this .pdf to help me remember the poses and I made it all the way through (kind of) I at least semi-tried almost every pose.

Beginner's mind and beginner's practice: I didn't actually try Supta Kurmasana, Garbha Pindasana, or Kukkutasana because I can't imagine getting my body to do those things.  I also gleefully skipped Setu Bhansasana because the ashtanga version freaks me out.

Writing this post has helped me to see that I'd like to approach my new Ashtanga practice more like I am approaching my new surfing practice. With as much love and joy, with fewer expectations and concerns about right and wrong.

Here is to hoping that tomorrow's practices both on the surf board and on the yoga mat are held within the loving joy of a happy and open beginner's mind. And to actually giving ALL of the poses a loving try with no expectations, with only an open mind and willing body.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Day 1 - Sunrise surfing and forgetting postures

This morning I was out on the ocean blissfully floating on my surfboard.  As I waited for the next set of waves, my body floated and my thoughts floated.

I began wondering when I would come back to this beautiful spot in Costa Rica.  I just finished an amazing yoga & surf retreat with Vanessa King and Peg Mulqueen and today was supposed to be my last day here. As I ticked through the upcoming months, I realized it probably wouldn't happen in 2013.

Then it hit me, I'm here now.  Why not stay?  

So I'm staying another 14 days.  I return to Haiti on April 1st after I will have spent the entire month of March here in Costa Rica.

My time in Costa Rica is about resetting and recharging for my time in Haiti.  I am teaching yoga there and about to commit to an extended stay.  My first two months there helped me to see that I need to feel whole and rested to put my best into the experience in Haiti.

So I'm staying in Costa Rica on the Osa Peninsula to recharge, surf and practice yoga.  

I'm also using this time to get started on an in-depth discovery of a disciplined Ashtanga Hatha Yoga practice.  My goal is to practice 5-6 days a week and to post something about my practice here everyday.  

Today I practiced from about 10:30am until 1:00pm.  I wouldn't call what I did disciplined exactly- but it was more disciplined than past self led practices.  I intend to do as much of the full primary series as I can while I am here.

Today I realized that I don't actually know the whole series and so need to study up a bit.  At the end of my practice I realized that I forgot to do Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana, all of the Prasarita Padotanasana series, and that I don't even have a clue about what to do after Supta Kurmasana....tonight I research and tomorrow I try again. 

Off for more surfing....see you tomorrow!